January 23, 2020

As part of the London Imperial College Science Competition 2020, Samuel Ridet, Shawn Mobley and I created this video featuring Piezo-Electric Transducers (P.E.T.s).

Climate change has become one of the most critical, global issues of our time, and electricity generation is one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Governments, businesses, and everyday people are switching to renewable sources of energy to reduce their environmental footprint, so the demand for creative renewable energy solutions has never been higher. In line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs; specifically, #7 Affordable and Clean Energy and #11 Sustainable Cities and Communities), we present a new, innovative, and renewable approach to electricity generation in high-density areas: piezoelectric (pronounced "pee-AY-zo-electric") transducers, or as we like to call them, "PETs". These small discs transfer mechanical energy like sound and vibrations from footsteps into electricity, thanks to dielectric materials. In other words, PETs harness otherwise wasted energy, generate electricity, and help reduce our carbon footprint in the process. In subway stations, the steady flow of passengers and trains could generate enough electricity to power signage and lighting. PETs' applications don't stop here: they could be used in airports, schools, sports arenas, highways, and other highly dense areas. This video was produced for the Imperial College London Schools Science and Innovation Competition. Approximately 150 groups of high schoolers around the globe submitted videos for this competition, and we had the honor of being selected as one of six global finalists. The final round, which would have consisted of our video, a live presentation and demonstration of our PET prototype, and a Q&A session, was initially supposed to be held in London in April 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was eventually canceled. When we first decided to participate in this competition, our team brainstormed creative and innovative ideas within the UN SDGs. Eventually, one member thought of the frequent mentions of heat and sound energy losses in his physics class, wondering whether we might be able to harness this energy for a useful purpose. Another member of our group remembered watching a video along those lines, where the video creators built a booth in which people could shout and jump around in order to "relieve stress", while the booth generated electricity thanks to PETs. We had never heard of PETs, and our minds immediately jumped to the broader potential for this technology. For example, by living in Chicago, we know how noisy the trains and passengers at L stations could be, so this is where we decided to focus our video. Over the next weeks and months, our group met up regularly to research, script, film, record, and edit our video. It became a major part of our junior years, and we were very proud of the final product. Once we were selected as global finalists, we even started our own business selling snacks at our school to raise funds for our trip to London. While our trip never happened, we learned valuable business lessons along the way - and made plenty of cash, too! We recognize that PETs aren't perfect; most notably, they unfortunately don't generate large amounts of electricity. However, they have numerous small-scale advantages, such as mitigating our reliance on the grid and, of course, not emitting GHGs. As such, we think PETs could be a great - and affordable - step in the direction of renewable energies and decarbonization worldwide.